Film and Television Features

Doc/Fest 2013: Day Five Review and Festival Round-Up.

Doc/Fest 2013: Day Five and Festival Round-Up.


The final day of Doc/Fest is a bittersweet one full of “see you next year” departures, with an impending black cloud of a non-festival Monday looming. It’s also a day of tired exhaustion, the sensory overload and break-neck speed of the festival taking its toll, including on me.

Still, there is much to see and do still and kicking off the day were the award ceremonies, with The Act of Killing receiving the Special Jury Prize. I gave the film a glowing review earlier in the week and of all the documentaries I have seen this year, it stood out to me as the best. Other awards included the Sheffield Youth Jury Award going to God Loves Uganda and The Sheffield Green Award  being awarded to Pandora’s Promise.


Due to tiredness of unknown proportions, I only took in a couple of films on Sunday. I started with A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at the New York Times, one of the films nominated for this year’s Special Jury Prize. The story of Jayson Blair may sound familiar as it’s very similar to that of Stephen Glass, whose story was made famous by being depicted by the underrated Hayden Christensen biopic, Breaking Glass. Like Glass, Blair was in 2003, caught plagiarising the work of other reporters and supplementing his own reporting with fabricated details in a large number of his stories for newspaper giant, The New York Times.

With exclusive access to Jayson Blair, who gives interviews to camera and readings from his own account of the events, as well as excellent interviews with other reporters and a vast selection of archive footage, Samantha Grant paints a vivid portrait of “The Blair Affair”. The film makes no concession for Blair’s participation, showing the effect that Blair’s lies had on others at the Times, which was riding high at the time off of the back of winning seven Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of 9/11. Jayson Blair himself is frank and the account of his drug and alcohol abuse, mental state and lies feel very open, although it’s hard to tell with Blair. He himself states in the film, “One of my weaknesses is lying. I could tell you I’m never going to lie again but that would be a lie”.

 A Fragile Trust is a very interesting and tight documentary providing great insight into the world of print journalism in the digital age and of journalism ethics, a very relevant topic even now.


Later, I took in my final film of the festival, Valentine Road, which continues in the tradition of stellar documentary work from HBO Films. Centred upon the classroom shooting of Larry King in February 2008, Valentine Road attempts to piece together the senseless crime.  King was an openly gay, bi-racial transgender teenager and asking his eventual killer, Brian McInerney, to be his Valentine for a dare proved to be the event that would ultimately lead to his death.

The film, similar to earlier film in the festival, NCR, is a deep and rounded account of a tragic event and interviews family members, the local community, teachers, witnesses as well as the prosecution, defence and jurors in the case. It’s an emotionally charged thought-piece that is eventually a shocking and eye-opening insight into the intolerant mind set of an alarming number of people in the film including teachers and jurors,  their thought process being that King somehow deserved to be killed for standing out.

The film is exceptionally well put together and is an astonishing and surprising viewing with many twists and turns in what, at first, seems to be a straightforward narrative.


This year’s Doc/Fest was overwhelmingly rich with events of an excellent standard, most of which amongst the best I’ve seen in their field; The Big Melt and From the Sea to the Land Beyond in live scored films, Walter Murch: From the Godfather to the God Particle in film education and Adam Buxton’s Best of BUG in comedy. The films I saw were mediocre at worst and although the programme was extremely solid, it seemed as though there were few truly exceptional films at the festival. Of the films I saw, my 5 picks from the festival would be as follows:

The Act of Killing
Le Joli Mai
Particle Fever
Valentine Road
The Moo Man

That said, Doc/Fest is such a vast and amazing festival that it’s impossible to see everything and I heard a lot of buzz about films including Muscle Shoals, Blackfish, God Loves Uganda and Basically, Johnny Moped as well as other films and events I wasn’t able to catch.

It’s an incredible festival and in that time I met many interesting and inspirational people and learned a lot from them, as well as from the programme. Doc/Fest is definitely one of the most personally enriching experiences I’ve ever had and I’ll be there whatever it takes next year.